Healthcare startup Buoy Health partnered with CVS Health to integrate its software with 1,100 MinuteClinic locations, the companies announced Tuesday.
Buoy aims to mirror the patient-doctor dialogue through artificial intelligence. Consumers answer a series of questions regarding their symptoms, and ideally, Buoy guides them to the most appropriate setting, provider and/or treatment.
If Buoy recommends a retail clinic, it may refer people to the nearest MinuteClinic, where CVS will hold their place in line. But Buoy will not refer exclusively to CVS locations, Buoy co-founder and CEO Andrew Le said.
The companies are still working out the financial arrangement, he said.
"We can change a patient's intent and educate them on how to get care outside of the ER, if needed, and into lower-acuity, more affordable options," Le said. "There are so many opportunities for Buoy and CVS to make the patient experience better."
Reducing unnecessary care and overall healthcare spending are core tenets of the industry's value-based mantra as providers look to maximize reimbursement, streamline clinical operations and boost patient satisfaction.
The partnership aligns with CVS' proposed intention to provide a more holistic and coordinated healthcare experience signified by its merger with insurer Aetna. But how CVS plans to use patient data on prescription-filling patterns, treatment settings, cost and utilization remains to be seen.
"Entering into a relationship with a health-tech innovator like Buoy to connect their experience to our nationwide network of MinuteClinic providers gives us the opportunity to provide affordable care at times and locations that work best for the patients who utilize this innovative technology," Dr. Troyen Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer at CVS Health, said in a statement.
Data aggregators like Buoy can help health systems mobilize their data to coordinate their operations and reduce costs.
Boston-based Buoy, which was founded in 2014 and raised $6.7 million in Series A funding in July 2017, already partners with Steward Health Care, Froedtert Health and University Hospitals in Cleveland.
About 65% of Buoy's users have had symptoms for less than 12 hours, which is much more up to date than electronic medical record data, Le said.
"This is front-line data," he said.
The company is on pace to attract 25 million to 50 million visitors in 2018. Buoy reported about 2.5 million visitors last year after its March launch.
It is currently working on a study with the University of California at Merced to quantify how Buoy influenced consumer behavior and how that translated to healthcare spending, Le said.
Healthcare is one of the most frequent search topics of Google's some 3.5 billion daily inquiries, which speaks to the potential value of coordinating data to streamline the user experience and lower the cost of care.
If software companies know what consumers are searching for and where they are landing, they can tell providers which services will have the most demand, how they can boost referrals and scale accordingly.
But relying solely on search engines to navigate the complex healthcare industry often translates to wasted time, effort and money. Clinicians' time is especially precious given that there are not enough of them to satisfy the growing demand for healthcare services.
"That begs for a solution that is scalable," Le said. "The only way to fill that gap is through technology like AI."